Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

American Meritocracy

Check out the sobering article at the Economist, Meritocracy in America. The point of the story is America no longer looks much like a classless society, where one is rewarded for one's merits, not parental income. Here are a couple of grafs related to my previous posts on Inheritance Tax and Aristocracy:
This is not the first time that America has looked as if it was about to succumb to what might be termed the British temptation. America witnessed a similar widening of the income gap in the Gilded Age. It also witnessed the formation of a British-style ruling class. The robber barons of the late 19th century sent their children to private boarding schools and made sure that they married the daughters of the old elite, preferably from across the Atlantic. Politics fell into the hands of the members of a limited circle—so much so that the Senate was known as the millionaires' club.

Yet the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a concerted attempt to prevent America from degenerating into a class-based society. Progressive politicians improved state education. Philanthropists—many of them the robber barons reborn in new guise—tried to provide ladders to help the lads-o'-parts (Andrew Carnegie poured millions into free libraries). Such reforms were motivated partly out of a desire to do good works and partly out of a real fear of the implications of class-based society. Teddy Roosevelt advocated an inheritance tax because he thought that huge inherited fortunes would ruin the character of the republic. James Conant, the president of Harvard in 1933-53, advocated radical educational reform—particularly the transformation of his own university into a meritocracy—in order to prevent America from producing an aristocracy....

The Republicans, by getting rid of inheritance tax, seem hell-bent on ignoring Teddy Roosevelt's warnings about the dangers of a hereditary aristocracy...
"Meritocracy" isn't a word I've used much, but I think I'll begin to use it more often; it sums up what I believe America should be better than most any other single word. The article also has some interesting observations on the Democratic party that deserve some thought. Definitely a must read article.